Warning issued over risk of swan deaths at new Bray bridge

BirdWatch Ireland cites reported cases of bird deaths at Samuel Beckett Bridge

BirdWatch Ireland has warned that swan deaths similar to reported cases at Dublin's Samuel Beckett Bridge could occur in greater numbers at a proposed state-of-the-art transport bridge in Bray, Co Wicklow.

The conservation group believes a group of 119 mute swans in the coastal town will be threatened by the design of the bridge, which includes long suspension cables.

The 22m-high structure would provide a two-lane public transport road as well as pedestrian and bicycle access but has prompted some concern regarding the nearby swan population.

Similar dangers were reported in advance of the construction of the Samuel Beckett Bridge spanning the river Liffey in 2007.


"This is a prediction that BirdWatch Ireland has sadly seen come to fruition. Every year we are contacted by members of the public who report that swans have been killed or injured as a result of a flight collision with the bridge and its suspension cables," the organisation said in its submission to Wicklow County Council. "This development likely poses a much greater risk of collision."

Dublin City Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment on reported deaths.

Flocking species such as swans have rapid flight but slow manoeuvrability and poor vision directly ahead during flight, making them more susceptible to bridge collisions, the group said.

It has written to the planning appeals body, An Bord Pleanála, to seek an environmental assessment of the design, which the local authority has deemed unnecessary.


A spokesman for Wicklow County Council said that in accordance with relevant planning and development regulations it “has concluded from a screening determination that there is no real likelihood of significant effects on the environment arising from the proposed development and that an environmental impact assessment is not required”. However, he said, the authority has been contacted by An Bord Pleanála on the subject and awaits any further direction.

BirdWatch Ireland has said the “international and national importance threshold” for mute swans stands at 90 birds and that the Bray Harbour population exceeds that number.

“[It] is one of the most important sites for mute swans on the east coast and [is] of national significance,” its submission said. Wicklow County Council declined to comment specifically on any threat to the local bird population.

Citing findings by zoologist Dr Richard Collins, BirdWatch Ireland noted that the number of swan deaths from all causes to the year 2000 was 357. It said 30 per cent resulted from collisions (73 per cent of which involved cables), but the actual incidence rate, when unreported cases were taken into consideration, is likely to be far higher.


Public submissions on the Bray bridge are now under review. However, notwithstanding the environmental concerns, there is a call for recognition of its importance, particularly given its link to a future Luas extension into Bray.

"It is imperative that we actively and urgently take steps to reduce transport emissions by providing attractive, reliable, high frequency, comfortable and affordable public transport and safe active travel – cycling, walking, safe routes to school – infrastructure and options as an alternative to car use," said Wicklow Green Party TD Steven Matthews and Cllr Erika Doyle in a joint submission.

“The Bray sustainable public transport bridge is one such measure.” They have appealed to the local authority to engage with BirdWatch Ireland and to assess the potential impact of the current design on birds in flight.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times